When two people bond thanks in part to a car, it’s a thing of beauty. Stories of fathers and sons fixing up a junky old car and learning something about each other along the way are heartwarming, but commonplace. However, this isn’t such a story. What we do have here though is a story of a car being the official transport vehicle of father/son bonding time. Jimmy bought his El Camino so that he’d have something practical for hauling his son’s equipment around from event to event, and because he’d always been fond of them. They didn’t fix it up together, but the car was the backdrop for many a day spent eagerly pursuing victory on the dirt track.
As I pull up to the house just around the corner from the nearby high school, I notice the El Camino parked out front. It’s just as good as I remember it from the meet that I first saw it at this summer. The red body with black trim and chrome bumpers is a striking package. Jimmy, the owner, is in his garage working on something and has moved it outside so that he has room to work. After I’ve taken all of the pictures that I need, we get down to brass tacks. I ask Jimmy about the condition of the car. It looks great and I know it runs, but just how original is it? It turns out that most of the car is stock with a few exceptions. The car came with Cragar SS Mags instead of the original stock wheels and a lot of suspension bits had been replaced when he bought it too. All Jimmy had to do was dial in the suspension so that the car would ride comfortably. He also added a brand new Holley carburetor so that he wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time rebuilding the old one. As I began to understand soon, this wasn’t just about fixing up a classic car to be presentable at shows, but also because Jimmy needed the car in good working order to haul equipment around.
As Jimmy puts it, about 20 years ago back in his home state of New Jersey, he was home one day while his son, Corey, and some friends were watching TV. They were making a lot of noise, so he decided to check in. What was such a big deal for a bunch of 10 year olds to be watching on TV? Well, this was the late 90s, so they were losing their minds over how cool BMX is. Jimmy was intrigued and decided to look up more about BMX on his computer. Eventually he found out that there was a BMX track about 15 minutes away from his house. Corey really wanted to compete in BMX, so Jim decided to support him. Fortunately, having been an army mechanic in the 70s, he was well prepared to help Corey out with fixing up the bikes. The only issue was transporting all of the necessary equipment to BMX events. Jimmy had a Chevy Tahoe at the time, but he thought that this might be the opportunity of a lifetime to find something that would be cool to drive around and practical all at once. Jimmy knew exactly what he wanted. He had to have an El Camino.
Jimmy searched for quite a while trying to find the perfect El Camino. However, after spending weeks hunting down the perfect Ute(An Australian name for car/truck hybrids like the El Camino), he managed to find one only three miles away from home. The gentleman was trying to sell an El Camino that had belonged to his father not long after he passed away. He owned a landscaping business and wanted to buy better equipment for his needs, so he was hoping that selling the El Camino could at least cover most of his expenses. However, Jimmy was looking to discuss the price and made an offer well below what the seller was looking to get. He told Jimmy that he couldn’t accept, but Jimmy just went back home and waited. This particular El Camino was in pretty good condition and wouldn’t need much work to be perfect. In fact, the seller’s father had been working on the car just about right up until he passed away. A car like that was worth waiting to see how things went. As expected, Jimmy heard back from the seller not long after who offered to sell for a lower price. Jimmy had his car. However, as mentioned before, it wasn’t ready for hauling BMX bikes and equipment. Not yet.
The first time he drove it home, Jimmy noticed that the El Camino just wasn’t tracking quite right. He knew that the owner had put on new suspension parts before he passed away, but he hadn’t fully tightened them down and tested them. That would be the first order of business after arriving home. After looking the car over, Jimmy also realized that a new carburetor would be a good idea as well. The old one had the wear and tear of years of use and Jimmy wasn’t looking forward to rebuilding it. A new Holley carb was installed and the El Camino was good to go. Jimmy was proud of the car. Being able to drive that big block Chevy engine around with a four on the floor was something that brought him back to his youth. See, when Jimmy was in high school, he saved up all of the money he had made from working as a gas station attendant all summer at the young age of 17 and bought a brand new 1960 Corvette convertible. This was his first car. All of the other kids at school thought that he had to have rich parents, but Jimmy knew this was the fruit of his labor. Jimmy tells me about this with some genuine disdain in his voice. He was annoyed that the others couldn’t recognize his hard work. However, he tells me that he cherished that car in spite of what other kids said and had fond memories of that Corvette. Fond memories that driving the El Camino brought back to mind. In spite of the memories, that wasn’t the most fun time in his life. That time would come right along with his El Camino.
After fixing up the El Camino and getting together the equipment that he and his son would need for BMX competition, they set off on what would become an epic father/son adventure. Every few weeks, they would go away on long weekends in the El Camino to compete. Jim set up the bikes, performed repairs, and cheered Corey on from the sidelines. They were a winning team, with Corey becoming the American Bicycle Association’s New Jersey state champion when he was 10 years old. Jim is still incredibly proud of this and during our interview, he takes the opportunity to show me as many photos and share as many memories as he can from back in the day. Among the things he shows me is a Facebook page that Corey and many other BMX enthusiasts from back in New Jersey maintain as a way of remembering the good ‘ol days. Among the photos Jimmy shows me are some of Corey in action out on the BMX course and another of Corey proudly sitting next to his huge state championship trophy with the other age bracket champions. For Jimmy, this time he spent at BMX competitions with Corey was the most fun he’s ever had in his life and the El Camino is an important part of those memories. It was their workhorse then, and, now, it’s a way for Jimmy to reconnect with his memories of Corey’s BMX days and his own high school days.